Racism, 'racial formation' and the class struggle : a study of 'race' and organised labour in England
In this dissertation, it is contended that existing theoretical frameworks for understanding racist and anti-racist action in trade unions are conceptually flawed. The primary function of a trade union is not to defend the interests of the whole working class as black radical theorists imply (see Sivanandan 1982; Gilroy 1987; Howe 1978) but rather the sectional interests of their members through the negotiation of improved pay and conditions within the confines laid down by the capitalist social formation (Hyman 1972; Clarke and Clements 1977; Kelly 1988). To enable the theorisation of anti-racist as well as racist action in trade unions, I also reject Phizacklea and Miles' (1980) uncritical use of the Leninist concept of trade union consciousness which leads them to associate racism with reformism and anti-racism with revolutionary social change. Instead, I recognise that trade union consciousness masks a range of different forms of reformist consciousness which include a sectionalist consciousness and a corporate consciousness. Through a consideration of the relationship between organised labour and the migrant worker over the past two centuries, it is demonstrated that the black radical claim that the racist action of trade unionists was motivated by the economic benefits they accrued requires re-evaluation. First, it was mainly during periods where a weak class identity (i.e. a sectionalist trade union consciousness) prevailed that trade unionists employed racist exclusionary practices. Second, such action was not motivated by a recognition that it would result in economic gains at the expense of other groups of workers but rather marked an attempt to protect what little they had in a capitalist social formation that could never fully guarantee their economic security. Importantly, this study establishes that during periods of acute class struggle and sustained strike action, the formation of a strong class identity (i.e. a corporate trade union consciousness) helped to undermine the prevalence of racism in trade unions and led to the development of an 'inter-racial' class solidarity where the advancement of sectional interests came to be perceived as being synonymous with the defence of general working class interests. Critical to the formation of this 'inter-racial' solidarity was the intervention of migrant workers and socialist activists. Looking at the significance of 'black' self-organisation, both Gilroy (1982; 1987) and Miles (1984) incorrectly conceptualise it as representing a move away from class-based politics. Instead, this study demonstrates that self-organisation was key to the foundation of an 'inter-racial' working class solidarity that developed during periods of acute class struggle. Their inability to adequately conceptualise 'black' self-activity lies in their failure to undertake a detailed assessment of the politics that inform such action. In redressing this weakness through a critical assessment of developments in one trade union - NALGO - it was established that self-organised groups were informed by two competing ideological perspectives: socialism and black nationalism. It was the dominance of the former current within these groups that persuaded a significant layer of 'white' activist opinion to support the principle of 'black' self-organisation which ensured that racism continued to be challenged during a period characterised by the widespread prevalence of a weak class identity and with organised labour in retreat.